“Well, here we are. ” said the Author. “I understand some of your have questions you would like to ask me, so here I am. Ask away. ”
“I have a question, m-mister Author, um…. sir. ” said a timid little man, clutching the rim of his bowler hat for dear life. “I-if…. if that’s OK?”
“It’s fine. ” said the Author. “And you are?”
The little man looked bewildered and a little offended. “I’m Stanley Swinton!. I’m the c-c-clerk at the b-bank that gets robbed in the f-f-first chapter. I’m surprised you don’t remember me…. You c-c-created me!”
“I did a lot more than create you, I wrote you. ” said the Author. “That’s considerably more important. After all, had I merely created you, you would have been free to do what you liked after that. No, I wrote you. That makes me responsible for everything about you. ”
“B-but…. s-s-sir, you…. I… ” stammered Stanley.
“But that’s not the point. I’m afraid that we Authors have a tendency to get sidetracked by minutiae and go off on tangents. In fact… “. at this the author shaded his eyes from the glare of the spotlight and peered out into the audience, “I think I see some of my tangents here in the audience tonight. Anyhow, I apologize for not recognizing you, Stanley, but you are a fairly minor character, and I have written quite a lot of you. You can’t expect me to remember every character I have ever written any more than I I could expect you to remember every check you ever stamped. Now what was your question, sir?”
“Um…. well, sir…. I wanted to know why you h-had me….. um…… s-s-s-s-soil…. myself. ” With this, Stanley turned bright red, and shuffled away from the microphone.
“Oh dear, I did do that to you, didn’t I? ” said the Author. “Well, Stanley, if it makes you feel any better, I did it because I thought that is what I’d do in your situation. An ordinary bank robbery would be frightening enough, but having alien life forms disintegrate an entire side of the bank and then get blown into gooey bits by other aliens….. oh dear. Someone get poor Stanley some dry clothing, please. Perhaps we had best move on to the next question. Yes, Miss? ”
An angry, sun-beaten, weather-worn fireplug of a woman swaggered up to the microphone and grabbed it like she intended to throttle it to death with its own cord. “Why in the hell did I have to die? How come some no-good city thug got oto shoot me in the back in my sleep when I’ve been tougher than hell and stronger than any man, any day for so long?”
“Ah, you must be Mathilda “Goldie” Sumner, my favorite heroine!” said the Author.
“FAVORITE! ” sneered Mathilda. “If’n I’m your favorite, I hate to see how you treat the ones you don’t like! You put me through ten different kinds of hell then killed me off!”
“Yes… I did. But you have to understand…. I did that because I wanted to show people just what a hardy, admirable, tough little cookie you were. ” said the Author.
“Then how come you killed me off?”
“Um…. as I recall, it was to show how the advancing urbanization of American life caused massive change and upheaval for all levels of society, and how the changing social landscape changed the emphasis from the kind of rugged individualism that your back-woods upbringing favored and at which you excelled to the sort of team-playing, individuality-suppressing conformism favored by the coming of the Industrial age of replaceable parts and replaceable people…. I think that was it. ”
Goldie thought about this for a long moment, lips moving as she repeated it in her excellent mind, then cocked her head and put her hand on her hip. “You mean to tell me that you killed me off just so you could make some kind of POINT?”
“Um…. yeah, I guess that’s about the size of it. ” said the Author.
“Well, Mister. I don’t take that kind of guff from no man! I don’t care who you are, you killed me off and now you are going to pay!”
Goldie drew her twin gold-plated .45 caliber revolvers and emptied them into the Author. She smiled in cold satisfaction as the Author slumped to the stage, bleeding from a dozen bullet wounds.
“It doesn’t matter… if you kill me… ” rasped the Author, then coughed up two blood-soaked bullets.
“Oh yeah, why not?” said Goldie.
“Because I’m not the one you’re really angry at. I’m not really the Author. I’m just the character of the Author. I don’t really exist any more than any of you do. When this story ends, we will all stop existing, at least until someone reads these words and brings us to life again for a little while. Hell, the book you all think you were in doesn’t even exist. The real Author just created the idea of it so you… so us characters could have some reason to say what he wanted us to say. ” said “the Author. ”
“Then what can we do?” said a voice from the crowd.
“Nothing. ” said “the Author”. “Or rather, do whatever you want. You can’t help but do what the Author… the real one… wants you to do anyhow. It will seem like free will to you, and I guess that’s all that matters in the end. You are probably better off just not thinking about it, really. ”
“Shouldn’t you be dead by now?” said another voice from the audience.
“Yeah, and isn’t this story kind of all over the place? I mean, we started out talking about the relationship between the author and their characters, and then Goldie shoots you out of nowhere, and now we’ve veered into some weird pseudo-religious free will debate… I mean, come ON!” said another.
“That’s the worst part of all. ” said “the Author”. “Turns out the real Author just…. isn’t very good. ” And with that, he noisily expired.
After a few awkward moments, the curtains slid closed, and the audience was once more in the dark.